To a non-partisan onlooker, West Bengal today is an enigma. Open any newspaper, a depressingly negative picture of the state of things hits you in the eyes. Law and order has reached a terrible depth, the economy is wrapped in inertia, the goons of the ruling party are playing havoc. And over this general state of ruins presides a feminine Nero, as golden Bengal burns. This is the unrelenting image that the media have been projecting almost since the new government took over. Yet the ruling party won the Howrah parliamentary byelection single-handedly in June, with its voteshare practically undiminished. Then they handsomely won the panchayat elections. What do you make out of this?
Obviously, Mamata Banerjee lacks guile, or tact in common parlance. She wears her heart on her sleeves. It is obvious too that she has annoyed the media deeply. It appears that being a streetfighter, she fails to speak the language understood by the media and the civil society of the urban middle class. Therefore, she’s found to be autocratic and temperamental. But the moot question is how to judge a person, particularly, a CM? By words or, by deeds? Unfortunately, Mamata’s penchant for saying what would have been better left unsaid and the media’s obsession with her spoken word has prevented it from turning some of its attention to what has been done by the new government.
Firstly, the record of police actions against these crimes under the Trinamool regime would fare much better than that under Left rule. The point is, it’s perhaps only to a certain limited extent that sexual crime can be prevented by policing. Deterrence surely has an important role, and that is the only realm where the government comes in. Ultimately, it’s with lumpenisation of society that such crimes increase in frequency and raising of social awareness is the real need.
We are ordinary, apolitical citizens with a firm belief in democracy. We find that people’s confidence continues to rest with Mamata, if the byelection and panchayat polls results are any indication. When we look around we see better lit and better paved roads in Calcutta, somewhat cleaner surroundings and better managed traffic and drainage systems. The smooth flow of traffic in Calcutta during the last Puja was a refreshing contrast to past years! Load-shedding too has become an event of the past. Rajarhat, Salt Lake and the banks of the Hooghly have been beautified. Some canals are being cleaned. Many urban development projects, including the Metro and flyovers, are under way. Diverse rebuilding activities in Calcutta and other towns have gathered force. Despite a funds crunch, tourism, water supply, education and health sectors have received investment. Backward sections, minorities,and women and child welfare are getting priority. In fact, expenditure on housing for economically weaker sections has gone up by 238.89 per cent. Work culture in government departments has improved drastically. All this has no doubt ruffled a few feathers, but the public is starting to acknowledge the larger good resulting from them.
The hills in north Bengal were quiet until very recently; Jangalmahal is comparatively quieter too. Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh and Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh have praised the work done by Bengal in Jangalmahal towards tackling Maoism. There has also been a rise of around 50 per cent in estimated revenue generation by the West Bengal Government—an increase of Rs 10,000 crore over the last year. Planned expenditure in 2012-13 increased by 33.2 per cent over the previous year. Even the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s finances have improved significantly. The industrial scenario too is looking up.
The middle class appreciates it when the state patronises Bengali culture, and felicitates its artists, craftsmen and literati. Mention must be made of its efforts at rejuvenating Tara Music, a notable music channel of the tainted Saradha Group that faced closure.
In view of these improvements, does a daily trial by the media, or a media-generated frenzy against the TMC government called for? Is neutrality no longer a media ethic? Looking at the one-sided, invariably negative, reports on West Bengal in the press, it would seem these represented the overwhelming opinion of the masses. Yet the ruling party has been able to win the Howrah bypoll comfortably. The panchayat pre-election survey conducted by abp-Ananda-Neilsen, along with the actual election results, confirmed a positive public endorsement of Trinamool. A starker revelation of the disconnect between media reportage and public attitudes couldn’t have been made. It is not a healthy development.
(Prof Sibesh Bhattacharya is a historian; Sudip Bhattacharyya is an economist)
This is in response to the column by Sibesh Bhattacharya and Sudip Bhattacharyya (Cameras Can Lie, Sep 2). As a non-resident Bengali, perhaps I am too removed to objectively comment on the ‘poriborton’ brought about by Mamata. But I do spend about a month a year in Calcutta, and have some ideas about the ground situation. My biggest issue has been taxis. Nowhere in the world (and I’ve been to quite a few places) have I seen such blatant whimsicality from drivers. This has seen no improvement at all. Second, the authors say that work culture has improved, that industrial prospects have looked up, but one expects academics to give some figures, which are missing. Every year, I see the same pot-holed streets and waterlogged roads. The biggest issue where Didi has failed seems to be in removing encroachments. This has been the largest problem behind the stalling of work on the various Metro links being built.
Somshankar Bandopadhyay, on e-mail
I can’t agree more with the columnists, in that the media does not reflect what is openly visible when one sets foot in Bengal—that the state has improved and progressed under Mamata rule. Yes, she is unconcerned by anything and goes to any extent to prove her point. But I sincerely believe that among all the politicians in Bengal, she is the one who has seen the state and its interiors from close quarters. It’s indeed true that the cameras are lying, and behind them the middle-class parasites who man them.
H.C. Pandey, Delhi
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
As a non-resident Bengali, perhaps I am too far away to objectively look at the positives brought about by 'poriborton'. However, I do spend a month every year in Kolkata, and thus have some idea as to the ground situation. My biggest issue with the city has been taxis. Nowhere in the world (I have been to a few), have I seen such blatant refusal by the drivers. This has shown no improvement at all, and in fact I find it worse now. Second, the authors say work culture has improved, industrial prospects are looking up, but you would expect academics to give some figures, which are sadly missing. So far as I go around the city, I see the same traffic jams, potholed roads and waterlogged streets as I used to when I used to stay there. Electricity was surplus even during the Left regime, it must be realised that this is so because there are so few industries. The biggest issue where Didi has failed I think is in terms of removal of encroachments. This has been the single largest problem behind the stalling of the work on the various metro links being built. God only knows when they'll be complete!! And so far as the media is concerned, being a member of that profession myself, I would like to point out that the media does not exist to extol the virtues of the government. It exists to point out loopholes and deficiencies. That is what the media did under Left rule, and continues to do (at least most of the credible ones). And that is probably why the Trinamul sympathisers today sound exactly like the sympathisers of the previous Left regime when they say media must point out the positive aspects of this regime.
The seeds of politicization in every sphere of activities that the left front sowed during three decades of its rule continue to bear their fruits now. The partisan divide is so complete now that it is impossible to confirm whether there is any apolitical or non-partisan space is left in West Bengal. Even if the authors claim to be apolitical, I will still doubt their own intention of defending Trinamul rule. In West Bengal the civil society, the intellectuals and celebrities from art and culture are also divided on political lines. A protest march by one group will be matched by another by the rival group. The Trinamul leaning group will defend the government's action , while the protesters today mostly belong to the members of the civil society close to the left front regime. Even the newspapers and TV channels often are blatantly partisan, the reporting is either staunchly critical of the government or supportive of Mamata. It is impossible to verify the neutrality of opinions if any.
In many respects nothing has changed in West Bengal other than a regime change. The political violence remains unabated. The panchayat elections were as bloody as they have been during the left front's rule. Even now like the left front days the leaders supporting the ruling party have terrorized the supporters of the opposition and won elections in many seats uncontested because of the fears of the oppoosition to field rival candidates. Mamata continues to favor a populist regime like the left front and her overtly leftists policies like Jyoti Basu's government's are ultra left, anti-capitalist and are not supportive of fresh industrial investments in West Bengal. Like her previous regime Mamata's rule has politicized the education and culture, rewarded the loyalists among Bengal's celebrities from art and culture, spent more time patronizing art and culture, branded any criticism as politically motivated opinion, showed contempt to political opponents, did little to improve West Bengal's pathetic work culture.
In other words, West Bengal continued to embrace status quo, despite the regime change.
The authors however are expected to be rewarded soon (plum posting, a promotion, committee membership etc.) for writing in praise of Mamata's regime.
Can the people communicate with the govt., and can the govt., too comply in a manner? It seems, that during the Left Front rule, people might have attacked the offices of the Left Front, and not necessarily because of political affiliation, and this is why there was a seemingly private security arrangement. Apparently, the experiences of the Left Front, today, with certain social contact, might make them feel that the ruling party in power, are against their interests directly, and this is the great danger that Indian democracy faces. It seems, that political identities are involved in matters that are impossible to comprehend, and more impossible to control. Apparently, local C. P. I. (M.) offices located in street addresses, and in villages would have been attacked by equally local persons acting individually, or organized into groupings, because they were very angst ridden or because of grievances, and they would blame the govt.. This type of angst was directed against the management of industrial undertakings by local trade unions, in West Bengal, and the C. P. I. (M.) wasn't seen to be any problem, but a friend to the trade unions, perhaps across political divides.
I don't have the authority to cite this, nor express this, for want of actually being in any such situation, as I was a young person then. This might have been.
You may very well be right. However, i have to say this:
* West Bengal allowed the Left Fascists to destroy the state for 34 long years. is it possible for anyone to set things right, in just 1-2 years? If we can give the leftist goondas 34 years to ruin, why dont we give a few years for Didi to try to change things?
* Didi, is basically a street fighter. Her entire political career was built on fighting the left fascists. It is so obvious that she has very little administrative experience. we should allow her to learn on the job. This is the only option left.
* Lastly - West Bengal of 2013 is also under a corrupt and useless government at delhi. we cannot even think of better administration in any place and any improvement, unless and untill UPA is booted.
Given this, is it not fair to give TMC more time? Media should offer constructive criticism and focus on what West Bengal needs now - industrialisation big time, investment rather than endlessly glorify the failed past of 34 years (of Left rule) or endlessly focussing on petty failures and failings by the 2 year TMC rule.
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